Costa Ricans have their eyes on the ocean and Congress:
There are a few bills proposed in Congress that were thrown more than a soccer ball in the national stadium. One is the tuna reform law which has been shaken up over the past two years, and the other is the shrimp trawling law which has been resurrected several times since 2013 and is coming back for another vote.
Many agree on two things. Shrimp is one of the most delicious products to come from the sea, and shrimp trawling is one of the most destructive types of fishing there is. Almost 90% of the marine life caught in the nets is other than shrimp, mostly juveniles of other bottom species. In addition to bycatch, the “sleds” that hold the nets to the bottom destroy the habitat where juvenile fish spend the first part of their life.
The highest rates of bycatch (bycatch) of non-target species are associated with tropical shrimp trawling. In 1997, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) documented estimated levels of bycatch and discards from shrimp fisheries around the world. They found discard rates (bycatch-to-catch ratios) as high as 20: 1 with a world average of 5.7: 1.
The shrimp trawl fisheries capture two percent of the total world catch of all fish by weight, but produce more than a third of the total world bycatch.
Tropical shrimp trawlers often make extended trips without coming to port. A typical tow can last for four hours, after which the net is drawn. Just before it is pulled on board, the net is washed zigzagging at full speed. The contents are then dumped on the deck and sorted. An average of 5.7: 1 means that for every kilogram of shrimp, there is 5.7 kg of bycatch. In tropical coastal waters, bycatch usually consists of small fish.
The last of the shrimp trawl licenses expired in 2019 and artisanal and sport fishermen are reporting a recovery of snapper, grouper and congrio on reefs close to shore. The shrimp issue has become a political punch bag, and President Carlos Alvarado has vetoed the law if it is passed by Congress to re-authorize shrimp.
Marviva recently sponsored a full page advertisement in the National newspaper, the Nacion in which over 100 different organizations have signed up to protest the idea of bringing back shrimp trawling.
The tuna reform bill is another that has been tossed around for almost two years now. It all started in 2013 when the Federacion Costarricense de Pesca (FECOP) sponsored a study that showed Costa Rica only got $ 37 for each tonne of tuna caught by foreign purse seiners as well as free fishing licenses. Boats were allowed to fish within 12 miles of the coast and domestic fishermen complained that they were hampering their ability to earn a decent living.
Next, President Laura Chinchilla sponsored a decree for purse seine nets over 45 miles and protecting a total of 200,000 square kilometers from purse seine nets. It was eventually adopted under President Luis Guillermo Solis in 2014, who moved the boats but did nothing with the system of giving them free licenses.
The coastal zone has since become a classic example of how ocean management can begin to work. Within 45 miles, tuna are common and other species that perished in the tuna purse seine net as bycatch are also recovering.
The Tuna Reform Bill would turn the decree into law making it permanent. All sectors of the fishery agree that tuna vessels should be moved 100 miles to give domestic fishermen more room to work without competing for fish in a relatively small area. The majority of longliners, sport fishermen and artisanal fishermen, that is to say nearly 2000 boats, are forced to clash over a 40-mile zone and this causes major conflicts between the different groups.
The only group opposed to this decision is the tuna industry when in fact such a decision would have very little impact on them but would be a giant step towards a more responsible use of Costa Rica’s marine resources.
Many Costa Ricans were unaware that about 87% of the nets set by tuna seiners were on dolphin super pods. They capture the dolphin to catch the tuna swimming below. They claim to be released unharmed but the dolphins panicked, some die and the harassment is repeated over and over to these playful creatures.
The tuna industry has been one of the industries that has really benefited from the Covid crisis. Due to demand, Costa Rica has increased the authorized quota by 25% to 9,000 metric tonnes. In fact, the request was caused by the generosity of other Costa Ricans. Almost all of the thousands of food baskets offered to people unemployed due to the Covid pandemic contained canned tuna.
Covid is also responsible for educating the general public. As more and more restrictions were imposed to help slow Covid infections, people began to read more, watch more news and follow groups on social media while being stuck at home. They started to follow politics more closely.
Just when everyone thought the tuna reform would finally be passed with the tuna vessels at least 80 miles away, nine members of Congress signed a motion to make the law identical to the current executive order, just 40 miles away.
The members of the congress were, María José Corrales (PLN), Luis Fernando Chacón (PLN), Jonathan Prendas (Independiente), Pablo Heriberto Abarca (PUSC), Carmen Chan (Independiente), Aida Montiel (PLN), Gustavo Viales (PLN) , Zoila Volio (Independiente) and Paola Valladares (PLN).
When Carlos Ricardo Benavides, jefe of the PLN party, campaigned for the presidency earlier this year, he insisted that dolphins had to be protected. His long government service, including coming from a coastal community and serving as Minister of Tourism, gives him insight into the need to improve conditions for people living in coastal communities. Apparently his party members disagreed as five of the nine congressmen to be signed for 40 miles were members of his party.
It is also interesting to note that only one member to sign is from a coastal community, all but one are city dwellers with little understanding of the real situation of the people of the Pacific coast. It seems that their interest is more in big business than in the will of the people and the real management of the oceans.
Congress adopts World Bank project
On September 7, during the second debate, Congress adopted the World Bank-sponsored $ 75 million project to improve fishing here in Costa Rica. Not all sectors are happy with this, especially the longliners who claim that most of the budget is not for fishermen and suspect that the money will indeed be used against them to get them out of the water.
The funds are intended to be used in the following and administered by INCOPESCA-Investment in Value Chains for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture. Strengthening mechanisms for social and environmental sustainability of fisheries and project administration, monitoring and communications.
Daniel Carrasco, President of INCOPESCA explained: “Now more than ever, we are committed to assuming with commitment and responsibility immediate attention to the socio-economic situation of coastal communities, which has deteriorated considerably due to the impacts of Covid -19. The actions that the country needs must be focused on an economic recovery with short and medium term results that allow us to help many Costa Rican families.
It is time for Congress to listen to the people. It’s no longer just a few buses full of fishermen protesting outside the Presidential House and the Congress building when Congress chooses big business over the will of the people. The Covid has impoverished many people but has also made them aware. Many voters are more attentive than ever, not only fishermen but also dolphin lovers.
Hopefully Congress will finally get the tuna reform passed and get rid of the shrimp bill. With the tuna vessels 80 or 100 miles away, there is room to rebuild the other fishing sectors. $ 75 million is a lot of money. Much will be wasted if they do not have serious involvement on the part of the fishermen. Some of the money is to be used with a commission of user groups who are to sit down and negotiate a plan where all can work in harmony for the good of the ocean and the fisherman.
Todd Staley has led sport fishing operations in Costa Rica for almost 30 years and works in marine conservation. He is currently Director of Communications for FECOP, the Costa Rican Fishing Federation (www.fecop.org), sits on the Central American Council of the International Game Fish Association and oversees fishing operations at Crocodile Bay Resort. Contact him at [email protected]